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Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Extensive stylus use drains the Ares Note's battery

After using the stylus on the Likebook Ares Note for a prolonged period, I noticed a significant loss of battery life. I've used the stylus to take notes using the built-in notebook application.

After long writing sessions, the battery's charge loses 8%-10% every thirty minutes (turning battery saver on didn't seem to make a big difference). Consequently, I would estimate extensive note-taking to drain the battery after 5-6 hours. Of course, this would be a poor result for a tablet, let alone an e-reader. However, if you primarily wish to read on the Ares, then expect an estimated 12 hours of use (it is possible to get two full days of use if you turn off the front light and mainly use the built-in e-reading software).

Another issue to consider is that the Ares Note's battery, compared to other e-readers, drains faster in standby mode. The best way to remedy battery drainage in standby mode is to set the Ares to automatically shut down after 120 minutes of not being used.   

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Likebook Ares review: Boyue's software problems persist

The Likebook Ares is the latest 7.8-inches note-taking e-reader released by Boyue. As an Android e-reader, it comes with a powerful RK3365 8-Core processer, ample storage (32GB) and 2GB RAM for multitasking between documents. As with Boyue e-readers, the capable hardware is let down by buggy software. This review is split into four categories: hardware, note-taking, PDF documents and e-books. 

Hardware

The Ares's screen, except for the Likebook Muses, is the best I've seen on a Boyue e-reader. While the screen is flush, like a tablet, you notice a slight gap between the front layer and the E-Ink display. The front layer's coating is noticeably reflective in artificial lighting. Overall, the screen clarity is good and better than the Onyx e-readers I've used (Onyx Boox Nova and Onyx Boox Note Plus). The front light is comparable to the Kobo Forma - it is even and gets similar brightness (however, it should be noted that front lights can vary between units). It is also possible to mix the white front light with a warmer orange-tinged colour.  

Despite the larger battery capacity (3100 mAh), I didn't notice a battery life boost in comparison to the Likebook Mars (2800 mAh). Android is not made for E-Ink, and there is a trade-off in battery life for the bonus features it offers. The battery estimate of 12 days of one hour reading seems accurate - I would estimate battery life to last two days of full-day usage. 

Overall, with the octa-core processor, 2GB RAM and 32 GB storage, there is strong performance and ample storage. Further, there is the possibility to insert an SD Card slot for more storage. 

Note-taking capabilities

The reflective screen has a slick finish and doesn't offer friction when writing with the stylus. While it is better than writing on a tablet screen, it does not have the feel of pen on paper. The writing experience is smooth, with no noticeable lag. 

The note-taking software feels unfinished. Below are some issues I encountered:
  • The pen type and line thickness interface appears at the bottom of a notebook page and covers the writing/drawing area. 
  • I couldn't find an option to export whole notebooks in PDF format. Instead, each page is exported independently in JPEG format. 
  • Converting written notes to typed text is hit, and miss and formatting are poor. Overall, the feature is unusable.
PDF document handling

Boyue introduced new PDF features with recent updates. The new features I noticed include:
  • Annotations, highlights and stylus notes are saved in the PDF file. Consequently, it is possible to sync a document to then access it on another device (I use FolderSync Pro to sync PDF documents).
  • It is possible to export stylus written notes in PDF documents in single JPEG pages.
  • Pinch-to-zoom and scrolling a zoomed page is smoother. 
While the updated features are helpful, there still exist serious problems that make the PDF software developmental. Below are issues that affect user experience:
  • There is a lot of ghosting when using pinch-to-zoom and scrolling a zoomed page. The software also does not refresh the page when navigating a zoomed-in page. Further, exit the zoom and written notes shift position and do not align to the intended page section.  
  • Stylus input is supported after using the auto or manual crop options. Unfortunately, stylus input is not supported in zoom-to-width mode (it is supported in zoom-to-page mode). 
  • Similar to note-taking, the pen interface appears at the bottom of a PDF document. In some documents, this can cover some of the text.
E-books are stripped of their formatting.

The default e-book reader strips the formatting of e-books. As a result, navigation links, headings, sub-section etc. are often affected. Another problem is font selection - at the moment, it is not possible to use a font's different styles simultaneously. Also, an issue that has persisted for some time is forced indentation that can't be removed.

Boyue, in recent updates, introduced Z-Reader as an alternative e-book reader (at the moment Z-Reader is in the beta stage of development). Z-Reader does remedy many of the formatting problems. However, the font styles problem noted above still remains, and I noticed e-books are unresponsive or inflexible to changing the top and bottom margins settings. 

Further observations

Another problem that persists is the poor translation of the interface menus. It seems Boyue translated many of the menus using an automated translator. As stated at the beginning of the review, the user must take some time to trial and error the e-reader to discover its different features. 

The native software's problems mean it is necessary to utilise third-party applications as a workaround. As an alternative to the e-book reader, I use KOReader and Moon Reader Pro. I couldn't completely replace the PDF software as it is the only feasible option for stylus input. If you don't need to use pinch-to-zoom, the PDF software is usable. 

Conclusion

The Likebook Ares, mainly due to its hardware, is a good e-reader. Similar to other Boyue e-readers, the benefits of Android mean many of the native software problems can be remedied using third-party applications. Nevertheless, Boyue's software continues to be a red flag. The native software should be the default option that meets most users needs. The user shouldn't be forced to rely on external applications to remedy problems that shouldn't exist in the first place. Yet, software limitations also apply to other e-readers. For example, Kobo's PDF software is weak, and for better support, it is necessary to install KOReader. Overall, the Likebook Ares could be a much better e-reader if Boyue revamps the pre-loaded software and carefully translates the Ares's menus. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

Likebook Ares initial impressions

I've recently been using the Likebook Ares - the latest 7.8-inches note-taking e-reader by Boyue - and my initial impressions are mixed. The software has improved, but there are still bugs and key features that remain unsupported. Also, Boyue's software is still confusing and time-consuming to understand. The main positive, in my view, is screen quality - it is better than the Likebook Mars and the Onyx e-readers I've used. Other positives are software related and mainly include PDF features that Boyue introduced with their latest software update. 

A more detailed review will hopefully be posted soon after further using the e-reader.  

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Is colour E-Ink genuinely useful?

Recently vendors have been releasing e-readers with colour E-Ink screens (the Onyx Boox Poke 2 Colour and Pocketbook Colour are two examples). We also witnessed the release of a colour E-Ink smartphone by HiSense. The latest e-readers by Onyx and Pocketbook are using E-Ink's Kaleido colour technology (Triton was the previous generation).

The question is if Kaleido is genuinely useful for reading. I would answer in the affirmative for a niche userbase - these are users that need colour for reading, for example, specific textbooks, graphic novels and manuals. Beyond reading and note-taking, then the limitations of E-Ink apply as Kaleido is based on Carta but with the addition of a colour filter. Thus, while Kaleido is a useful feature for an e-reader, the limitations of E-Ink render it useless for smartphones and multimedia.

At the moment, the potential e-paper candidate for multimedia is CLEARink. In 2019 CLEARink announced it is collaborating with FLEx Lighting to produce a video-capable display. However, it is not clear when the technology will be widely available.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Windows 10 e-book reading options

Microsoft announced the cessation of the Edge Browser's ePub support. While Windows 10 is not an ideal platform for e-reading, there are capable options to read e-books. Below is a list of possible apps:

Freda

There is a paid and non-paid version of Freda. The non-paid version has ads that appear at the bottom of the home page but disappear after opening an e-book.  Of all the apps listed in this post, Freda offers the most customisation options. Customisation options include theme presets (this includes page background colour and text colour), control options and export bookmarks. The application also allows the syncing of e-books through the creation of a designated folder in OneDrive. As Freda has an Android app, it is possible to read and sync e-books between a mobile device and a Windows 10 laptop or tablet.

The main drawback with Freda is that it is not user-friendly. It takes time to discover the different features, so patience is needed. Another issue, I noticed, is the lack of smoothness when navigating the app's menus.

Book Bazaar

While Book Bazaar offers fewer customisations options, its user interface is easier and quicker to navigate. A drawback, with no touch screen, is the difficulty of selecting and highlighting text. To highlight text requires pressing both left and right mouse buttons and carefully dragging the cursor to select text; afterwards, a menu appears that allows the option to highlight, add a note, share etc. (the process is even more difficult using a trackpad). Significantly, there is no option to edit a highlighted passage to include more text. To alter a highlight, it is necessary to start again by first deleting the previously highlighted text through opening a separate marks and notes menu.

Sync features are supported via OneDrive - e-books, similar to Freda, are uploaded to a designated folder. Unfortunately, there is no Android app, and so there is no way to continue reading an e-book on a mobile device.

In comparison to Freda, ads appearance is more extensive. They appear not only in the library home page but also inside settings menus after an e-book is opened. Overall, in my view, Book Bazaar has too many flaws, and Freda is the better choice for e-books.

Calibre

Calibre is known as the go-to software to manage and convert e-books and other digital reading documents. Any e-book loaded into the library can be accessed via Calibre's inbuilt e-book viewer. The e-book viewer is barebones and supports features like font customisation, searching, table of content, colours of page and text etc. It also supports the option to inspect and change the CSS style sheet of the e-book viewed. Calibre's e-book viewer, it appears, is focused on changing the e-book's formatting to then be read on an e-reader. Thus, I wouldn't consider it as a dedicated e-book reader app like, for example, Freda.

Google Play Books

If you use Google services, then using Google Play Books is a good option. Google doesn't support the Play Books app in the Windows 10 store, but it is possible to access the service via a web browser. As Google Play Books is supported in Android and iOS, it is possible to upload personal e-books and read/sync them across different platforms. Also, notes and highlights are synced to Google Drive.

In a future post, I'll cover Kindle's PC app and Kobo's Windows 10 Store app. In the post, I'll explain why I think both these apps are limited and aren't worth using.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

KOReader updates

KOReader recently released updates that enhance wireless options to manage the software. Below are two examples that previously required manual management from the user:
  • Wireless software updates are now easier to manage: It is possible to wirelessly search for software updates and then download any updates if available. 
  • Dictionaries in multiple languages can be downloaded via dictionary settings. Also included are dictionaries that translate words between languages.